5 Design Approaches to a Biophilic Home

I have always loved “Green Buildings” and waiting to invest into one of it soon enough, and that again depends on what do I mean by “green building”. The layman term of “green building’ or public awareness is buildings with a lot of landscapes and rainwater harvesting in general. There is no doubt that the word “Green Building” has been around for quite some time and interpreted variously. Various green building performance index are being created across South East Asia today, of course with the prominent LEED and GreenMark are paving their influence across the upcoming new index.


But at some instance, what stirs in my thought is that there’s a need for a paradigm shift to study how these tools have underrated the benefits of integration with living things into the building. There are nothing wrong with tools defining high energy performance building (which is good) but there’s a lack of acknowledging living things integrated design, where there should be a deeper understanding that landscape does more than being a visual pleasure element.


Biophilic Design1

I am not against of the current impressive buildings that give a clear attention to be more environmentally friendly design.. the principles are obvious, harvesting daylight to achieve lower consumption on artificial lighting, implementing best passive design to minimize heat gain and thus reducing the need of mechanical ventilation such as air cond etc.. and some green areas. Totally impressive and good. I have always loved Guz Architects designs, where most of their projects undertake high end residential in Singapore.

Biophilic Design2

But as much as all these designs are impressive and seems to be very nature associated, they are very rigid and man made it seems, that does not reflect what nature really have to offer. Various green building tools emphasize on the size/volume of the landscape but do not really push landscape architects to go beyond form and scale design of landscapes by promoting edible landscape and the various studies of occupant nature encounter experience. Ken Yeang’s approach to architecture has ramifications for the well-being and quality of life of users, which are among the most important architectural considerations today. Landscape certainly associates with biodiversity and ecosystems integration.

Biophilic Design

Take Two: which one is environmental cautious design?


This is the problem we are facing. As much as we are keen in improving and promoting low carbon footprint lifestyle through buildings, but often these fail when the occupants do not understand and appreciate nature in the first place. We have a lot of buildings with nature deficit order design today. As much as how we would want to engineer a building to bring occupants closer to mother nature, this contradicts itself when any development would need to clear off a land and chop off all the trees and require to bring in another tree from several miles away to plant there. Where’s the design with nature principle that encourages us to blend into nature instead of modifying it?


The video above shows how one could appreciate nature through the daily routine and how does one interact with nature through various senses. We can have a wide area of nice planted turf and shrubs, but that does not reflect what landscape diversity is about. We can have a swimming pool to swim in, but that does not reflect the feeling of stepping into the sand in the lake.. if you ask any cave man, they would rather name our modern tropical green homes as a superstitious design. hah!


This is crucial as most new generation today are born in big cities with hardly any virgin forest around to excite them what nature is truly like. It’s not only the young but anyone will feel that a liveable city space is one with many parks and gardens with various biodiversity incorporated. Recent research in neuroscience and endocrinology clearly demonstrates that experiencing nature has significant benefits, both psychological and physiological. Bringing nature and references to nature into the built environment is the purpose of biophilic design.


Good landscape design is one with a variety of species and ability to attract biodiversity rather than a piece of vertical landscape purely for aesthetic purpose.


Biophilia describes “the connections that human beings subconsciously seek with the rest of life.”  It also proposes he possibility that the deep affiliations humans have with nature are rooted in our biology. A good biophilic design is one which encourages biophilia rather than biophobia. Philias are the attractions and positive feelings that people have toward certain habitats, activities, and objects in their natural surroundings. Biophilic design is one where it integrates the nature into our built environment.

In our urban context, nature is commonly defined by parks or gardens, but weather and animals are closely involved and a good biophilic design is one which incorporates these elements. The core of biophilic building design again is to bridge the gap between human beings and nature. Well, it could really sound like as if building a farm! These are the 5 design approaches to a biophilic design from my point of view.


Well, it simply means finishes that look like natural elements. Be it wooden finishes, or bare concrete finishes. it’s nice to have textures or visual of the natural elements. Bamboo is quite widely used due to its flexibility thus able to be done in many ways. There are also a lot of choices from the laminated wood which can be done flooring or panels.

Desktop1 (4)But yes these are the easier approach but also obstacle can be a lot of the real practice such as not all woods are FSC certified, meaning harvested from sustainable wood harvesting forest practices.. or perhaps not all comply building codes, fire safety code.. or it’s hard to apply for building insurance. But biomimicry does not only need to come in finishes, it can come in forms too.

Desktop1 (2)


And the idea again is infinity. From the tree, root inspired staircases, to beehive furniture, to the many possible shapes of different scales, from furniture to building that gives people a distinctive image of the natural form. While some always associate this as expensive due to designer products, well, it certainly doesn’t always need to be when you can DIY it easily too.


Simply means Landscape and Water elements. I would say this is quite a standard practice of well living residential design. where you have internal courtyard.. or koi pond.. or just a still water table or swimming pool. This is quite a significant element in energy performance design too to reduce the urban heat island effect and simply a visual comfort perspective.
Desktop1 (3)But again the significance is here where you place them and how well again you integrate them inside and outside your home, in such a way that user will experience contact with nature any possible angle available. It’s very easy to have nice garden outside but that’s totally detached once you entered your super modern superstitious alienate interior design. So a good distribution of design such as internal courtyard and planter boxes along facade and rooftop, and interior fountain certainly completes it. Well, perhaps also a vertical herb kitchen in your dry kitchen.


Again this is the very fundamental of biophilic design when one needs to get in touch with the outside world, to be able to relate the weather with their routine. A clear bad example would be most modern shopping mall with so much of artificial lighting and almost no sight to the outdoor that made it so detached from the nature. Daylight is already proven to help people in ergonomics and economical term a lot.

Desktop1 (5)

You would be surprised how some people love the glare in the morning, shining in into their beds and waking them up. Certainly, no artificial lighting can match with the benefit of natural daylight. People can relate to nature pretty much with the intensity of direct or diffuse sun light they get as the seasons rotate.. or even the tone of the color.. The same goes to the surroundings, and texture and personality of the landscape as seasons pass by.


So you have a built environment that relates much to the natural elements, now you are lacking of the next component of nature, living things! Directly it means get a pet! or even having your own life stocks. Be it the mainstream home pets such as fish, cats, dogs, or your life stocks, these things bring your living space to life as your houses are now closer to the nature as it embraces other living things as well. And again it depends how often do you encounter them! The noisier the better perhaps? 

Desktop1 (6)


But nevertheless again, if you have animals, then it’s activities with them that ultimately draw you closer to nature. Biophilic design is a design which teaches anyone to experience on their own journey with nature and able to define the significance of it. I mean personally, for me I do find inspiration out of lying on the patch of grass and just simply playing with the cats. It seems to be some unintended communication that does improve our human beings. So yes be it any creatures you have at home or nearby, do some engagement 😉


But again activities to get close to nature doesn’t really need animals, the easiest and most common of all is edible landscape or planting in general. It is very easy for anyone today to eat food they claim it is from the soil but not truly aware how did they come from. An edible landscape is one simple activity anyone can have their plot of land or just some planter box and just experience from the very moment you throw the seed and the moment you consume its final vegetation product. It’s again one of the best activity how one can relate to nature better =)

Desktop1 (7)


Actually, needless to say, biophilic prototypes in Malaysia are long founded, the best practice is the Malaysia traditional Kampung House. There are various environmental elements incorporate into the design of the elevated wooden house, be it life cycle analysis or its capability of being expanded or migrated, the Malay traditional house is a good example of biophilic design as most of the time it is situated along the tropical rain forest setting and they are accompanied by their life stocks such as poultries or mammals.

CHALLENGES to go for Biophilic design in Urban Setting

On the other hand, in a built environment condition in the city center, the challenges to go for biophilic design is huge. Major obstacles come from the existing law. It seems that many laws, such as the fire code, building code and Uniform Building by Law, can restrict a creative design of dwelling a lot, including a biophilic home. Well, I won’t go into details but I don’t think anyone can have a few poultry or mammals in a bungalow lot.. or many other possible things. but I am saying, of course, it is possible!

UNDERESTIMATION to go for Biophilic Design

And of course, asides from building codes, the underestimation on the benefits of biophilic design is one major factor. A lot of developers again look into short term profit making and do not look into long term benefits to the building occupants, and this can only change when the building occupants put this on demand and change the trend setting, or perhaps there’re some legislation/building code measures to put this right. There are numerous studies done on the benefit of biophilic design, in which again many can claim skeptically of these intangible measures as they don’t represent short-term monetary in return.


Numbers are rounded to the nearest whole. 1: Ohtsuka, 1998. 2: Wolf, 2005. 3: Machlin & Carper, 2007. 4: Heerwagen, 2006. 5: Heschong, 2003; Loftness, 2008.

And of course, the general public in Malaysia is still not well aware of their built environment comfort level such as indoor air quality and the other aspects of the current green building efforts. These are slowly done with the prototype example awareness by some developers such as Sime Darby IdeaHouse or Panasonic Econation.

Well, only time will tell when does the architecture awareness of biophilic design will be paving its way into Malaysia… What say you? Singapore already has its skyrise greenery awards & numerous incentives from the government & expert think tank researchers into this issue.National Parks Board has introduced the Skyrise Greenery Incentive Scheme (SGIS). Under the Scheme, NParks will fund up to 50% of installation costs of green roofs and vertical greenery. Well, that’s certainly a lot of benefits when it’s only 75Sgd/meter square of a green roof. Cheap!  I cannot think any initiative for Malaysia for now, though.

Disclaimer:  *Pictures are Googled Images.*